“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be …” — Robert Browning
I was 13 years old when I first read these words. They were on a sundial in a garden at the seminary I had entered days earlier. At the time, growing old was incomprehensible to me and Robert Browning’s poetry an experience yet to be savored.
Almost 60 years later in the throes of aging, I find myself fortunate to be among others who help me believe that, indeed, the best is yet to be. They are my friends.
Truth be told, aging is not an easy process. One’s body seems to protest against it most mornings as joints struggle to remember their functions, screaming for reminders. And one’s mind tends to get lazy and moody and lost for moments, chasing down fleeting thoughts or trying to remember someone’s name. Is it any wonder I sometimes think that my friends are so appreciated these days because misery loves company?
Yet, when I think of it, there is no stage of life where friends are more important to one’s well-being than the later years, if only because they let you know you are not alone. Even if they look older than you think you do, they are a mirror of self and a life lived. If they are long-term friends and close to your soul they can keep you honest with your memories; if they are friends come lately to your life they help you create new ones.
My friends refuse to let me settle into growing old. They keep me from isolating because they are more available than they could ever have been in earlier years. Whether breakfasting or “doing lunch” or sharing a really good “read,” taking in a movie or just stopping by, or connecting by phone or on the Internet, friends can make retirement seem like another career, one in which I could never be paid enough to compensate for the joys of their presence.
In a sense, these years are years of harvest. Friendships from those early seminary years and so many others along the way have grown to a fruition I could never have imagined at the time of their seeding. And I am grateful.
Of course, the best friends of all are family. No one is more aware of the changes aging brings and of the challenges they present, not only to me but also to them. The “best” that Browning writes of is mostly about their love and support in these grown-to years.
Browning’s words in his poem, “Rabbi Ben Ezra,” also defines a faith in the process of aging no 13-year-old could ever comprehend:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was
Our times are in his hand
Who saith, “A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all,
nor be afraid.”